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Toasted Head Russian River Chardonnay 2003
Where the heck is Yolo County?
Yolo County may not be a major destination for wine lovers, but that's okay by us. Our neighbor to the west, Napa County, gets all the tourists, while Sacramento County, to the east, gets all the politicians (and hot air!). We're in between, in one of California's original 27 counties, which has stayed a rural oasis that is now home to a large community of artists and craftspeople, as well as California's greatest concentration of organic farmers. The name Yolo is from the native Poewin Indian word "yo-loy," meaning "abounding in the rushes," but some locals insist it's an acronym for "You Only Live Once."
Our estate vineyards in Yolo's Dunnigan Hills, a designated American Viticultural Area (AVA) on the eastern side of California's Coast Range Mountains, are perched on rolling hillsides with well-drained gravelly loam soils. It gets warm in the Dunnigan Hills in summer, but cooling breezes from the Sacramento Delta and San Francisco Bay reduce evening temperatures to between 55° and 65° F. This enables our grapes to cool down quickly at night, preserving their fresh flavors and crisp natural acidity.
For over 30 years, the farms around here have supplied northern California's finest restaurants and farmer's markets with a cornucopia of delicious, organically grown fruits, vegetables and nuts. At Toasted Head, we're proud to have added fine wine to the menu.
A standout region for its decidedly Californian take on Burgundian varieties, the Russian River Valley is named for the eponymous river that flows through it. While there are warm pockets of the AVA, it is mostly a cool-climate growing region thanks to breezes and fog from the nearby Pacific Ocean.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir reign supreme in Russian River, with the best examples demonstrating a unique combination of richness and restraint. The cool weather makes Russian River an ideal AVA for sparkling wine production, utilizing the aforementioned varieties. Zinfandel also performs exceptionally well here. Within the Russian River Valley lie the smaller appellations of Chalk Hill and Green Valley. The former, farther from the ocean, is relatively warm, with a focus on red and white Bordeaux varieties. The latter is the coolest, foggiest parcel of the Russian River Valley and is responsible for outstanding Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
One of the most popular and versatile white wine grapes, Chardonnay offers a wide range of flavors and styles depending on where it’s grown and how it’s made. In Burgundy, Chardonnay produces some of the finest white wines in the world, typically tending towards minimal intervention in the winery and at its best resulting in remarkable longevity. This grape is popular throughout the world, but perhaps its second most important home is in California, where both oaky, buttery styles and leaner, European-inspired wines enjoy great popularity. Oregon, Australia, South America, South Africa, and New Zealand are also significant producers of Chardonnay.
In the Glass
When planted on cool sites, Chardonnay’s flavors tend towards grapefruit, green apple, minerals, and white stone fruit, while warmer locations coax out richer, more tropical flavors of fig, melon, and pineapple. Oak can add notes of vanilla, coconut, and spice (as well as texture), while malolactic fermentation can impart soft, buttery acidity.
Chardonnay is as versatile at the table as it is in the vineyard. The crisp, clean, Chablis-like styles go well with simple seafood, light chicken dishes, and salads. Richer Chardonnays marry well with cream or oil-based sauces.
Since the 1990s, big, oaky, buttery Chardonnays from California have enjoyed explosive popularity. More recently, the pendulum has begun to swing in the opposite direction, towards a clean, crisp style that rarely utilizes new oak. These Old-World style wines have been dubbed the “New California Chardonnays,” and anyone who claims they do not like Chardonnay should give them a try.